Six Things You Didn't Know About RPA's Joe Baratelli

L.A. Shop's Head Creative Has Shoe Drama

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Joe Baratelli
Joe Baratelli 

RPA Chief Creative Officer Joe Baratelli recently celebrated his 27th year at the L.A.-based agency. He was there to welcome American Honda into the shop, and he was there to help make sure it stayed after the client put the account up for review in January (though the Acura piece went to Interpublic agency Mullen).

RPA is currently in the midst of rolling out a new campaign for Honda, which bears a poignant tag: " Start Something Special."

We have yet to see the new work, but perhaps past efforts will give us a clue. Under Mr. Baratellis's watch, RPA has produced feel-good campaigns that highlighted the brand's devoted fans. One of Creativity's all-time favorite spots, 2003's "Best Friends," brought an unexpected twist to the phenomenon of pet owners resembling their animals -- by showing the same dynamic with cars. Efforts like the more recent "Million Mile Joe" celebrated Honda's most dedicated fan, while the emotional "Monsters Calling Home" gave an aspiring SoCal band a career-making surprise. And then, of course, there was the Super Bowl return of Ferris Bueller.

There's plenty to say about those car ads? But what about one of the key people behind them? For that, we dig into the lesser known facts about Mr. Baratelli for this week's edition of Creativity's "Six Things" series.

1. It's no wonder he got into the car business; Mr. Baratelli grew up in a Ford family. He was raised in Dearborn, Mich., in the shadow of the Ford world headquarters and went to Henry Ford Elementary and Edsel Ford High. His family disowned him when he moved to California to work on Honda. OK -- he's exaggerating. However, his family did have a tendency to joke with friends who didn't drive Fords, telling them they couldn't park near their house and should go up the street.

2. He once traded lines from his favorite film of all time, "Sweet Smell of Success," with Tony Curtis. Written by Clifford Odets, it's the hippest dialogue in the history of cinema. Curtis stars as the hungry press agent Sidney Falco with Burt Lancaster as J.J. Hunsecker, the omnipotent columnist. Mr. Baratelli said, "Cat's in the bag, bag's in the river" and Mr. Curtis responded, "I'd hate to take a bite out of you, you're a cookie full of arsenic."

3. He's deaf in one ear. So expect him to be the first to sit down at a meeting or at a dinner party, in the far left corner. If someone is on his left, he needs to turn his head all the way around like an owl to hear them. The trouble is, he has a friend who can only see out of his right eye. He has to do the same thing.

4. He absolutely cannot wear the same pair of shoes two days in a row. His feet get itchy. So he always travels with at least two pairs.

5. Speaking of shoes, he was in a weird late-'80s adaptation of the 1920 German expressionist horror film "The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari." And in that, he played a shoe salesman that appeared on video. (Check it out -- it really is weird. Mr. Baratelli appears around 4:30 in.) The film became a bit of a cult classic. And, he also designed the title sequence.

6. His worst fear is getting hit by a car. As he says, "The indignity of it." Imagine lying in the middle of the street with a circle of strangers looking down at you. Usually he's the one alone on the traffic island as his friends hustle across just in the nick of time.

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